A Fine Plan Indeed – Wheeler Pass to Miners Creek Trail TR

Saturday evening, after a satisfying day of riding downhill bikes at Keystone, my friend Dave and I started kicking around ideas for a Sunday adventure. Many options were bandied about over Great Divide Rumble IPA and greasy cheeseburgers (or was mine pulled pork?) but in the end we decided on a route Dave had been eying for a while. He had been rained out from riding this objective several weeks prior, so this time we also planned to accomplish it as a shuttle to ensure completion. Our mission was to drive as high up Peak 9 Road in Breckenridge as we could, pedal up and over Wheeler Pass, descend to the intersection of Miners Creek Trail (which is part of the Colorado Trail), climb back up and over the 10 Mile Range, descend to the intersection of the Peaks Trail, and follow that to Frisco for food and libations.

Later that evening I got a text from the Goat (aka Jeremy the Evil MGE!) suggesting a ride near Kenosha Pass. I promptly called him to explain our plan, and to see if he was interested. Although not as long as many of the Goat’s epics, it was also a route he had been keen on exploring for a while. He said he’d let me know in the morning if he wanted to come along. At 8:15 am I got a text stating that he was in, making the final cast of characters for this production me, Dave, and the Goat.

After dropping a truck at the Brewery in Frisco, we headed in to Breckenridge and wandered three miles up Peak 9 Road, parking near one of the Breckenridge lodges. The views of Peak 8, the Lake Chutes, and our eventual destination under Peak 4 were incredible. After making sure keys were stowed properly and we had everything, we started the 2-mile pedal up the road to the junction with Wheeler Pass Trail.

It was a fairly arduous climb, but basically uneventful. The beers I had the night before, coupled with the altitude, were starting to affect me negatively. I was definitely nauseated at this point, and happy to take a break. We spent some time at the top of Peak 9 Road just staring at the mountains, picking out various peaks and features. Greys and Torreys, Georgia Pass, Mt. Evans, and more were all catalogued and accounted for.

Fall has turned the willows many eloquent shades, blanketing the slopeside like an enormous patchwork quilt. We marveled at this site as we began the traverse on narrow singletrack from the top of Peak 9 Road up to Wheeler Pass. Even at this altitude where foliage is sparse, nature still reminds us of her transcendent beauty. I was pretty gripped on this section, not breathing efficiently and letting the exposure really get to my head. “Pythoned”, as Dave put it, and I was thankful he was fine with stopping up a bit and helping me calm down. I needed to get my head back around riding in the true alpine, where everything seems bigger, badder, more open, and highly exposed. Not having your mental game on point up here can be costly. The trail, while narrow and exposed, was completely rideable and after a few deep breaths and some pedaling we were at the last push to Wheeler Pass, a series of steep hike-a-bike switchbacks.

The first descent was loose and dusty, down the fall line off Wheeler Pass with sweeping, wide open turns that kept speeds up and traction sketchy. I was still a little uneasy from the altitude and my hangover, and took this one fairly carefully. Jeremy, however, did not and was tearing down the alpine decent like a man possessed. Dave likes to savor these sorts of things, and while not keeping pace with Jeremy was still going at a decent clip. Slippery, rocky, dusty alpine turned in to loamy, pine-needle strewn trail as we descended down below treeline. The trail eventually became more traversing, and quickly we arrived at the junction with Miner’s Creek Trail.

Now on the Colorado Trail section of our ride, we started the climb up Miners Creek that would eventually take us back up and over the 10 Mile Range. We again found ourselves above treeline. Between pushing steep sections and riding mellower grades, I realized I had fallen way behind on nutrition for the ride. I stopped for a moment, dug a couple of Clif bars out of my pack, and wearily gnawed on one as I pushed my bike up towards the ridegline. After a while I began to emerge from what seemed like a fog, my head becoming clearer and my legs a bit stronger. At this point we realized we were just above the infamous SKY avalanche chutes, so we stopped a bit to take in the views and eat a bit more. Looking south towards Freemont pass, the hillside aspen groves were blazing yellow in color. Fall has truly come to Colorado.

The riding up here is tough, with plenty of small steep pitches that necessitate hiking, often with our bikes slung fireman’s carry style across our packs. Once on the top of the ridgeline, we could pedal more often, yet the pace was still slow due to the terrain and the altitude. Obscure singletrack riddled with rocks would give way to boulder fields, and the bikes would go up on the pack again. Despite the difficulty, the experience is like none other. Man and machine, bike and rider, in a place where few others tend to go. We pressed on and made the last push on to an outcropping that was to be the stage for the beginning of the descent to the Peaks Trail.

Dropping in on Miners Creek was a bit of a mind game, as the trail starts over a convexity that appears to simply fall away into nothing. On the riders right is a huge, steep bowl with jagged cliff bands perched on top that seemed to support my sense the trail went into oblivion. Once past the rollover, it became clear the trail was (in fact) not going to fall off a cliff, a revelation which didn’t make it much easier. This is classic alpine descending in Colorado: steep and treacherous, with plenty of loose chunder and decomposed granite to keep you honest. Throw in a few tight switchbacks and I was more than happy I made the investment in a dropper post years ago. We encountered lots of “up and over” pointy rock maneuvers as we traversed below Peaks 5 and 6, and a few little sniper uphills in the willow crossings that kept us on our toes. With my head finally fully clear and the hangover purged, I really enjoyed this bit of sweet high-country singletrack, and too soon we came to the saddle below Peak 4 that would mark the beginning of last leg of our journey.

From this last saddle it was game on, and I dropped in behind the Goat to see if I could keep his pace now that my hangover was gone. It starts a bit steeper at the top with a few loose, gravelly, rounded turns that allowed us to carry speed into the drainage. This gave way to slightly less steep terrain down the fall line of the gut with plenty of swooping turns, root and rock gaps, small stream crossings, tree stands, ruts, and undeniable speed. Basically heaven in the form of an amazing downhill payoff we had earned with elevation. The Goat got balled up at the top of a steep, narrow chute littered with root drops and a decent rain rut, and with me on his wheel he jumped out of the way hollering “You got it, brother!” I charged into it, hitting the brakes hard to scope a line, and letting ’em roll just in time to clatter down the section, past a group riding up the trail, and through a couple more turns. The Goat dropped in after and we both held up to wait a few seconds for Dave, and chatted with the group a bit.

Once regrouped, we charged ahead. The trail now wasn’t nearly as steep but still fast and chundery with loose rocks and high speeds. Jeremy and I traded the lead back and forth, back wheels swapping out and skipping from side to side as we barreled down the rough and tumble trail. As we neared the junction with the Peaks Trail, we crossed several railroad tie creek bridges, and the dirt became a bit loamier for a spell. There is nothing like the exhilaration of an extended descent after a long day in the high country, and this one was delivered many times over.

Eventually we hit the Peaks Trail, which is a widely popular trail for bikers, hikers, and all sorts of people. This trail is quite wide, and our route would take us almost entirely downhill into the town of Frisco where the vehicle was stationed. Not wanting to plow anyone over, we dialed back the speed and kept it in cruise mode down the much smoother, wider Peaks Trail. This didn’t stop us from having fun, but we were definitely on the lookout for other trail users. At the intersection of a dirt road towards the bottom, we opted to continue on a bit of singletrack called the Rainbow Lake Trail. This was wide but densely wooded, and much slower and meandering than the full-on descending we had been doing. Normally I like to end big rides with an epic descent, but the deep woods and rolling terrain made for an enjoyably introspective conclusion to our adventure. Well, almost the conclusion. The Goat and I missed a turn at some point and wound up on the Royal Trail, which turned out to be a short but deliciously technical slow-speed downhill that brought us to the Frisco bike path. Perfect.

We rallied back in to the town of Frisco via paved rec path, and found Dave waiting for us outside the brewery. Smiles, fist bumps, high fives, and more smiles were exchanged as we packed up the bikes and de-chamoised. Over beers and cheeseburgers we recounted the trip. It wasn’t a long one, barely half the distance of other rides I’ve been doing lately, but fully packed with everything one could ask for in a ride. We all agreed that not only was the ride really fun, but it was also pretty… Pretty f’ckin’ awesome.

Yes, it was a fine plan indeed.

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